In addition, one clause frequently makes an abstract assertion, while the other paraphrases and exemplifies it, as in Proverbs 25:11–12, from the New Jerusalem Bible.

Like apples of gold inlaid with silver

is a word that is aptly spoken.

A golden ring, an ornament of finest gold,

is a wise rebuke to an attentive ear.

The Bible 16

Any Biblical reference or literary form carries connotations of truth. Walt Whitman used an opposite style-feature of the Bible, yet for analogous metaphoric reasons. Whereas Whitman used the expansive, proclamatory, litany-based inclusiveness of Biblical structure, Hemingway contracts it, makes chiastic form firm, lean, something solid and workmanlike. He creates blocks of relations that are similar to Cézanne’s strokes and geometric substructure. This hard-boiled solidity is also suggestive of simplicity and truth.

Nänny has “discovered close to a hundred such” chiasmata in Hemingway’s work. He describes them as “formal, quasi poetic structurations submerged under the deceptive verbal surface of his seemingly simple, realistic prose.” 17 In order to make the chiastic structures clear, in his article “Hemingway’s Architecture of Prose: Chiastic Patterns and Their Narrative Functions,” Nänny has taken what are continuous prose texts in Hemingway and broken them into diagrams with the lexical repetitions in bold-face and the semantic repetitions in bold italics. An excellent example is a passage from “Big Two-Hearted River, Part I.”

The river was there. It swirled against the log spiles of the bridge. Nick looked down into the clear, brown water, colored from the pebbly bottom, and watched the trout keeping themselves steady in the current with wavering fins. As he watched them they changed their positions by quick angles, only to hold steady in the fast water again. Nick watched them a long time.

He watched them holding themselves with their noses into the current, many trout in deep, fast moving water, slightly distorted as he watched far down through the glassy convex surface of the pool, its surface pushing and swelling smooth against the resistance of the log-driven piles of the bridge.

(...  The river was there. It swirled against

1 the log spiles of the bridge. Nick looked

2 down into the clear, brown water, colored from the pebbly

bottom, and

3 watched the

4 trout keeping themselves steady in

5 the current with wavering fins. As he watched them they changed

their positions by quick angles, only to

6 hold steady in the fast water again.

7 Nick watched them a long time.

7 He watched them

6 holding themselves with their noses into

5 the current, many

4 trout in deep, fast moving water, slightly distorted as he

3 watched far

2 down through the glassy convex surface of the pool, its surface

pushing and swelling smooth against the resistance of

1 the log-driven piles of the bridge.)

Max Nänny 18

Similarly, a segment of In Our Time is proven to have chiastic, “quasi-architectural symmetry.”

It was a

1 frightfully hot day. We’d jammed

2 an absolutely perfect barricade across the bridge. It was simply

priceless. A big old wrought-iron grating from the front of a house.

Too heavy to lift and you could

3 shoot through it and

4 they would have to climb over it.

—It was absolutely topping.

4 They tried to get over it, and we

3 potted them from forty yards. They rushed it, and officers came out

alone and worked on it. It was

2 an absolutely perfect obstacle. Their officers were very fine. We were

1 frightfully put out when we heard the flank had gone, and we had

to fall back.

Max Nänny 19

As presented in “Hemingway’s Architecture of Prose,” Nänny finds several specific narrative functions for Hemingway's various applications of chiastic structure, including “back and forth movement;” “opposition, symmetry and balance;” “framing;” and “centering.” Most importantly for the theory of central trope, the novelist clearly applies this formal element as an embedded metaphor(m), using it to “mime or enact meaning.” 20

Hence, we come to Hemingway’s central trope. This involves a double-blend, as it features two complementary mappings. Such complexity is described by Fauconnier and Turner in Chapters 14 and 15 of their book The Way We Think, titled respectively “Multiple Blends” and “Multiple-Scope Creativity.” 21 The couplings are far more closely knit in Hemingway’s work than several of Fauconnier and Turner’s examples, such as the “Dracula and His Patients” illustration they draw from a newspaper editorial. 22 Hemingway’s two pairings are so compactly interwoven as to be almost one blend. While I would contend that most metaphor(m)s are more akin to the iconic blend seen above in van Gogh, Hemingway gives an inkling of other, far more intricate or even convoluted possibilities. The conceptual integration of a number of mental image mappings appears to be more frequent and essential in postmodern artworks.

The image-mapping is that of simplicity on trope (metonymy) and solidity on structure (chiasmus). This, in turn, plays on the metaphors TRUTH IS SIMPLE and TRUTH IS SOLID, both of which are viewed through the lens of the metaphor STRUCTURE IS THE OBJECT. This logical sequence yields the author’s personal central belief: “writing is truth is life.” His metaphor(m) is “metonymy and chiasmus are solid and simple, are truth (about life).” He extended this into his subject matter and many if not most of the other elements of his writing, generally by analogy. His descriptions, place names, characters’ names, dialogues and syntax are among the creative particulars which bear the stamp of his metaphor(m). My point is not to celebrate the insight of literary critics such as David M. Raabe who highlighted Hemingway’s metonymic play, nor the insight Nänny and Hermann offer into his chiastic structuring, but to analyze these mechanics of his writing in a cognitive sense, thus expanding our perception of the agonistic and vital purpose they serve in his writing by seeing the significant way in which they converge in the author’s central trope. 23

Hemingway made linguistic form spatial and visual in an intricate and coherent complex of tropes. Foundational metaphors are extended, elaborated and composed. Telling the truth is one of the most important aspects (a synecdoche) of morality, thus truth is an elaboration of MORALITY IS STRAIGHTNESS. Furthermore, straightness is a metonymy of simplicity. The writer is using many literary elements metaphorically, but most of all metonymy itself. This is an unprecedented twist resulting in a great critical metalepsis. Coherence can be an attribute or extension of truth. Two foundational metaphors active in our society are COHERENT IS WHOLE and COHERENCE IS ALIGNED. A building or constructed work of art must be solid, that is, structurally sound, composed in a thorough fashion. THEORIES ARE BUILDINGS as well as IDEAS ARE CONSTRUCTED OBJECTS are operative at that point, as applied to literary ideas, most of all to his chiastic constructions. Extend existence and you have life, one foundational metaphor is indeed EXISTENCE IS LIFE, yet another is EXISTENCE IS HAVING FORM. For the author this meant a very specific form—his work, his writing. Hemingway has a central trope with epistemological and ethical implications, a powerful and broadened rationality of amazing complexity in a writer of ostensibly astounding simplicity.

These accounts of central trope in van Gogh and Hemingway have put the theory of central trope to the test and, I believe, substantiated its utility.

Hemingway's Metaphor(m)

The diagram of Ernest Hemingway’s Metaphor(m)


  • This article is based on pp. 86–94 of “Chapter 2; The Theory of Central Trope: Metaphor and Meta-Form” of my dissertation.
  1. Thomas Hermann, “Quite a Little About Painters: Art and Artists in Hemingway’s Life and Work,” Swiss Studies in English, no. 123 (Tübingen: Francke, 1997), p. 146.
  2. Harold Bloom, A Map of Misreading (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975; paperback, 1980), p. 12.
  3. Harold Bloom, Agon: Towards a Theory of Revisionism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982; Oxford University Press Paperbacks, 1983), pp. 335–336.
  4. Hermann, Quite a Little, p. 134.
  5. Ibid., p. 186.
  6. The relationship between metaphor and metonymy may be far more complex than has been assumed for many decades. Günter Radden, for example, asserts that most metaphors may actually have metonymies as their source. This is in his paper “How Metonymic are Metaphors?” in the book Metaphor and Metonymy in Comparison and Contrast, edited by René Dirven and Ralf Pörings.
  7. Ibid., pp. 151–153. See also Max Nänny, “Hemingway’s Architecture of Prose: Chiastic Patterns and Their Narrative Functions,” North Dakota Quarterly 64, no. 3 (1997): 157–176.
  8. Hermann, Quite a Little, pp. 140–143. One subsection of Chapter 10, “Hemingway and Cézanne,” is titled “The Role of Context” and offers an excellent discussion of metonymy as a contextual device in Hemingway’s writing.
  9. Hermann, Quite a Little, p. 139. Hermann cites the Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, ed. T.S. Eliot (New York: New Directions, 1968), p. 5.
  10. Ibid., p. 165.
  11. Ibid., p. 142.
  12. Ibid., p. 105.
  13. T.V.F. Brogan and Albert W. Halsal, s.v. “Chiasmus,” The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, edited by Alex Preminger and T. V. F. Brogan. 1993 edition.
  14. J. P. Fokkelman, “Exodus.” In The Literary Guide to the Bible, edited by Robert Alter and Frank Kermode (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press, 1987; paperback, 1990), pp. 60–61.
  15. John B. Gabel, Charles B. Wheeler and Anthony D. York, The Bible as Literature: An Introduction, 3d edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 40.
  16. Quoted in Gabel, Wheeler and York, The Bible as Literature, p. 41.
  17. Hermann, Quite a Little, p. 158.
  18. Nänny, “Architecture,” pp. 169-170. Nänny takes his quotation from Ernest Hemingway, The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (New York: Scribner, 1966), p. 209.
  19. Nänny, “Architecture,” p. 162. Here Nänny’s quotation is from The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, p. 113.
  20. Nänny, “Architecture,” p. 158.
  21. Fauconnier and Turner, The Way We Think, Chapters 14 and 15, pp. 279–308.
  22. Ibid., pp. 279–284.
  23. See, for example, David M. Raabe, “Hemingway’s Anatomical Metonymies,” Journal of Modern Literature 23, no. 1, (fall 1999): 159–163.